Ono Grinds: Where Oahu’s Top Chefs Eat

When out from behind the stove, these Kahunas of the kitchen can be found at their favorite Oahu restaurants, that range from ethnic gourmet to drive-in joints serving Hawaiian comfort food.

Ever since I met and married my Honolulu-born husband, Kaipo, I’ve longed to move to Oahu. We have, for now, compromised on spending holidays and summers there. Rather than satisfy my love for island life, these windows of “aloha time” have further piqued my fascination with all things Hawaiian, including food and, specifically, finding out where the locals eat. By locals, I mean the big Kahunas of the kitchen—the top chefs, the culinary gurus who on their nights off venture out to find the ono grinds (best foods).

On a recent visit to Oahu, I met up with some of the island’s famed foodies to find out where they go for grinds. Not surprisingly, they served up a luau full of insight and addresses! It goes without saying that I highly recommend all of these chefs’ restaurants.

Chef D.K. Kodama’s Picks

Known for his love of food and people, chef Dave “D.K.” Kodama—founder of D.K. Restaurants, including Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bars, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, Vino and d.k Steak House, and several restaurants on the outer islands—doesn’t have to head far to enjoy his favorite food: Dungeness crab ramen with Asian truffle butter broth and fresh herbs (an award-winning dish featured on the menu at his own Sansei. (No one said these chefs had to be modest.)

Kodama and his family also enjoy the variety offered at Seoul Garden Yakiniku (1679 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu. Tel. 808-944-4803). “Because we have kids ages 3, 5 and 7, we try to go places that are kid-friendly, i.e., loud, where we can spill all over and not have to dress up,” he says.

Chef Alan Wong’s Picks

James Beard Award winner in 1996, Alan Wong—chef/owner of Alan Wong’s Restaurant, The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong and Alan Wong’s Japan—notes that he prefers to eat at home with his family because “everyone is afraid of cooking for me except for my family.” He does have his Honolulu favorites, however. Wong heads to ZenShu (477 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu. Tel: 808-739-7017) to eat omakase sushi by Yuji because it’s always fresh and creative, he says. When he’s in the mood for Chinese comfort food, Wong stops at On On (1110 McCully St.., Honolulu. Tel. 808-946-8833) for its cake noodle with pork and sweet sour mustard cabbage, and the chow fun.

Chef Lance Kosaka’s Picks

Lance Kosaka, executive chef at The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong (1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu. Tel. 808-945-6573), enjoys checking out different ethnic food restaurants (Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese) because they represent the melting pot of flavors you find in Hawaii, and there are always plenty of choices. “You’re never limited to just one thing and can try multiple selections,” he says. Two of Kosaka’s top picks include Le Bistro for special occasions and the “not-to-be-missed” Side Street Inn (see Personal Picks) because “the food represents the local culture and flavors.” (Alan Wong also told me, “Everyone loves their pork chops!”)

Chef Bill Bruhl’s Picks

Raised in Hawaii, chef/restaurateur William (Bill) Bruhl, of BluWater Grill (377 Keahole St. Tel. 808-395-6224) has an as affinity for fresh fish and establishments offering a connection to the sea. When serving advice on a favorite restaurant, Bruhl says of Ola! at Turtle Bay Resort (57-091 Kamehameha Highway. Tel. 808-293-0801), “Where else on Oahu can you find great food, literally right on the beach?” Closer to home, he says the food quality and level of service at Michel’s at the Colony Surf is hard to match. 2895 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu. Tel. 808-926-6552. Michelshawaii.com

More Local Favorites from the Chefs

Wong: Ono Hawaiian Foods serves Hawaiian comfort food such as lau lau (traditionally pork and butterfish wrapped in luau leaves, from the taro root), kalua pig (roast pork), lomilomi salmon, and poi (from taro). 726 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu. Tel. 808-737-2275.

Bruhl: Rainbow Drive-In—barbecue combo plate with extra macaroni salad and sauce on the rice! 3308 Kanaina Ave., Honolulu. Tel. 808-737-0177. www.rainbowdrivein.com

Kosaka: Young’s Fish Market—squid luau (a unique and favorite Hawaiian luau dish). 1286 Kalani St., #101, Honolulu. Tel. 808-841-4885.

My Personal Picks

Destinations: Hawaii, Honolulu, Oahu

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat